The Photographers: Five photographers, one brief: to capture the world of food on their doorstep

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Chicken tikka

Photographed by Martin Parr

Martin Parr is a Magnum agency photographer, best known for `The Last Resort: Photographs of New Brighton', published in 1986. He is a pioneer of the `new documentary' photography.

"As a nation, we're not known for our culinary heritage, so chicken tikka has kind of crept up on us and conquered our hearts. I know it sounds absurd and a little dramatic, but I see Britain drowning in a sea of of chicken tikka masala. One of the things I try to do through my work is to challenge the disparity between how things actually appear and how they are represented by advertising and the media. We are constantly being fed visual propaganda and, in my opinion, chilled meals are a perfect example. The pictures on the packaging and what's actually inside have virtually no connection at all, apart from the fact they are vaguely the same colour. I photographed the packaging, then the meals, uncooked (which looked extremely unappealing) and then I cooked them to give them the benefit of the doubt. I gave them all marks out of 10 for taste. Tesco came out on top, scoring seven out of 10 and Waitrose the worst. They didn't even call it tikka masala, instead trying to disguise it with another name. I have a genetic curry condition because I'm English, it must be in our blood since the Raj or something, but even I had to draw the line at chicken tikka nuggets, it was just too disgusting an idea to contemplate, never mind eat."

The 24-hour bagel shop

Photographed by Zed Nelson

Zed Nelson has photographed conflicts in Angola, Somalia, Afghanistan. His latest major project, shot over the past two years, was a study of gun culture in the United States and won him a Visa D'Or at the Perpignan Festival of Photojournalism in September 1998.

"I remember queuing here at 4am, coming back from clubs. You're part of a ritual, all sorts of people standing under leaching, unforgiving fluorescent lighting - it must be the brightest place in London. The night we shot was Hallowe'en, which added another dimension of strangeness. A vampire wandered in at one stage, but it wasn't intentional. Every night here is a weird night. You get a such an eclectic mix of people: businessmen, policemen queuing for their dinners, clubbers, prostitutes, and shift workers. We arrived at 5pm and left at 6am and it was never empty. There were moments when there were big rushes, like around midnight when the pubs close, people come in and stand at a Formica counter, chewing, staring vacantly with rubbish around their feet, totally unglamorous. At 6am, it's just as busy, but there is a funny merging of the people who are just getting up and the people who are on their way home after a night out. A chauffeur had driven all the way from Park Lane and was driving back. The bagels are almost incidental, I'm more interested in the people. It's a strange meeting place for different tribes."

The kebab house

Photographed by David Modell

Among many political projects, David Modell documented the disintegration of the Tories at the last election, which earned him a prize at the 1998 World Press Photo Contest. He also specialises in nudes. Modell chose to photograph a local restaurant, described by its owners as an authentic Turkish kitchen run by Kurds.

"The food at the Mangal is superb and it represents what I really like about London in a strange way. It's in a part of the city that is incredibly varied ethnically and the clientele is extremely varied racially. The atmosphere is entirely positive and enjoyable. The customers understood immediately why I was shooting it. The chef, Brahim Opuz, is also one of the owners. All cooking takes place on that ocakbasi grill. Brahim does it until he gets too hot and sweaty. It's extremely hot work, you're only a few feet from the fire. He said that to be a good ocakbasi cook you have to know your meats and also there's lots of interaction with customers - you're on display. I photographed a Kurdish woman who arrived in London that day. Her son lives in Hackney and he took his mother there because he told her the food was authentic. She agreed."

Delivery men

Photographed by Stephen Gill

Stephen Gill, 27, is a documentary and portrait photographer whose pictures of life in Poland earned him second prize for the Ernst Haas Golden Light Award in 1996. He decided to order home delivery.

"As a portrait photographer it is interesting to photograph people when you don't know what they're going to look like - to just open the door. You haven't got any preconceptions. I wanted to show the diversity of food that you can get delivered to your home and the people illustrated that.

I ordered seven different takeaways, and six of of the delivery men were happy to be photographed. Being in London, I guess, people aren't that surprised by odd requests. These days you can get anything you want delivered to your door. So you won't have to leave your house. I think that's a bad thing - but also convenient. Maybe that's the future."

The Sushi bar

Photographed by Dario Mitidieri

Dario Mitidieri won the W Eugene Smith Award in Humanistic Photography 1992 for his images of Bombay street children. He chose to shoot Moshi Moshi Sushi in the City of London.

"I thought it was very interesting, the sushi revolution. Only two years ago, a lunch-time snack almost always meant a salmon or cheese and pickle sandwich. Now sushi bars are everywhere. This particular bar is on Liverpool Street. I spent three days there, and every day people were queuing to get in. It was always packed. I liked to see this conveyer belt going round and round. I had the sushi there myself one day. The chef prepares the food in front of you. It is really good, healthy food." Interviews by Aoife O'Riordain and Richard O'Malley

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